Fort Wayne Community Schools leaders spoke with urgency Monday as they again called on parents to fight for public education by contacting legislators.
Their worries about proposals to expand Indiana's voucher program and fund education savings accounts were underscored as they listened to David Marcotte of the Indiana Urban Schools Association.
The organization represents 35 public school districts, including FWCS. Urban schools typically have high populations of poverty, high concentrations of English-language learners, high concentrations of special education students and high mobility, Marcotte said.
He came to the board meeting with information about trends in complexity funding – the state dollars schools get to better support students from families receiving welfare and food stamps.
Many educators contend students from less advantaged homes take more resources to educate.
An independent study by Indianapolis firm Policy Analytics showed the inequities in Indiana school funding as it relates to tuition support from the state, Marcotte said.
Tuition support includes foundation funding, which is allocated consistently statewide, and complexity funding, which is based on the number of student families enrolled in foster care, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
In recent years, Marcotte said, the foundation funding has been increasing – meaning every district has been getting additional funds from that basic grant – but the complexity index has been decreasing.
Statewide, he said, the least complex districts received an average annual tuition support increase of 1.3% since 2014 – a 7.8% total increase over six years. Meanwhile, he said, the most complex districts, including all Indiana Urban Schools Association members, got an average annual tuition support increase of 0.5% – or 3% over the same six-year period.
“That's the disparity you're going to get,” Marcotte said.
Indiana can't afford to siphon more money away from public schools through programs such as vouchers, Marcotte said.
Anne Duff, board president, asked Marcotte what he sees as the future of public education if the proposal for education savings accounts passes. These accounts would give parents of special needs students money for various services, such as speech therapy and autism consultants.
“I truly think that we're going to continue to get whittled, whittled and whittled down, where the only option you have as a local traditional public school system is to continue surviving through referendums,” Marcotte said. “There's people, communities, in this state that, unfortunately, can't afford that.”
Board member Jennifer Matthias implored community members to get engaged. She recalled a quote from the late Phyllis Bush, a retired South Side High School teacher and tireless public education advocate.
“She once said to me, 'It only matters when it matters, and by then it's too late.'”